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 Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, June 15, 2017, Pages 1 & 9

A Soldier's Story
Reported KIA in WWI, Ringgold County man returns home


Submitted by Margaret Sue Dickson Dykman, Tucson, AZ

With the 100th anniversary of WWI, I have been going through the photos and artifacts my family has collected of that period in my Dad's life. I would like to share his unique story, to remind us all of the sacrifices that many generations of soldiers and their families have made to achieve and ensure the freedom and safety of our precious nation.

On April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I, then hoped to be the war to end all wars. My Dad, Ervin George Dickson, descendant of a Revolutionary War soldier, mobilized with an Army contingent at Mount Ayr, Iowa in September 1917 at the age of 25. He was a farmer and was granted a brief furlough that fall to husk his corn crop. After several months of training in the United States, he arrived in Europe on July 1st, 1918, where he was assigned to the 38th infantry. He fought in France in the Marne battle, the St. Mihiel drive, on the Verdun front, and ultimately with Company H in the Argonne Forest. In the Argonne Forest, on October 7, 1918, at around 4:0 p.m. he was shot in the chest, neck, and hand. The military reported him as being killed, notified his family, and issued a death certificate. An obituary was printed in his home town newspaper.

As the old timers used to say - now for the rest of the story!

My Grandmother had a dream around the time Dad was shot where she saw him being wounded and he fell facing east, where the sun rises; therefore, she knew he had not died. She steadfastly held onto that belief, including rejection death benefit payments from the military.

[Page 9] The Germans had found my Dad the evening he was wounded and as he said, provided him with "excellent first aid treatment." He was then taken to a German hospital along with wounded German soldiers. He was fed the same as the German soldiers: cabbage and potatoes. He hated cabbage, but fortunately the soldier next to him liked cabbage and hated potatoes, so they traded. He was also given four cigarettes a day, the same as the German soldiers; however he was not given the daily cigar that the Germans were provided. From that hospital he was taken to where there were other American prisoners.

The armistice ending the war was signed on November 11, 1918, and Dad was subsequently transferred to the French on December 1. He was sent to an American hospital in France. Due to his injured he could not talk or write, so his identity was initially a mystery to the military. Around December 9 he was finally identified and someone wrote a post card to his family on his behalf, but signed it with an inaccurate spelling of his last name. When his family received the card, they were unsure whether the note was actually from or about him. In early 1919, Dad finally arrived back in his hometown of Ellston, Iowa, and the entire population of the town turned out to greet him.

Dad received a small pension as a result of his injured finger. He said it was enough to keep him in cigarettes. Twenty-six years later, in 1956, he was awarded a Purple Heart.

Dad was one of the lucky soldiers that got to return home. He continued to farm and moved to Wood, South Dakota in 1928. In addition to farming, he became a rural route mail carrier there. He married when he was 39 years old, had six children, and 21 grandchildren. When he retired [1959] from the U.S. Postal service, he was initially denied benefits, because he was still on some federal government roster as having died on October 7, 1918.

Dad never really talked to us kids about his service in WWI. But I remember he always wore a bandana around his neck to hide his scars - some were red, some were green, but his neck was always covered. His uniform hung in the milk shed, even for his grandkids to see. He sang WWI songs: "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" was one of his favorites.

My hope for future generations is that due to the bravery and efforts of current and past soldiers, their children will be able to share stories of peace, rather than of war. However, to achieve and maintain peace, the brave soldiers of the past can never be forgotten.

[Next week we will feature two additional articles related to Ervin Dickson's amazing story.

The first chronicles the notice of Dickson's "death." The second recounts Dickson's triumphant return to Ellston, including an interview with Dickson himself.]

Photograph courtesy of Mount Ayr Record-News
Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, June of 2017

The Tingley Vindicator
Tingley, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, June 27, 1918, Page 6

LETTER FROM ERVIN DICKSON

Camp Merritt, N.J.
June 14, 1918.

Dear Mother, Father and Brother:

I will try and write you a few lines tonight. I am well. We left Camp Pike Monday, June 10, at 6 p. m. and were all glad to get away. There were thirteen cars of us.

The crops all looked good. Corn was from 6 inches to tasseling out. Some of the cotton was up and looked fine. There were several small patches of wheat that was cut and shocked. They cap the shocks here by putting a bundle up on top of the shock like we do on the ground to start a shock. That shows what Arkansas people know about farming. The women and men both work in the field. I saw an old darkey woman plowing corn with a double shovel plow. They hoe the corn down here the same as we do our gardens at home.

We are going northeast. We are now going through a swampy country and there is lots of timber. The timber is oak and cypress. There are lots of rail fences here in Arkansas.

Just now saw a kid plowing with one horse and a double shovel and he was using a jirk line. He was about the size of Louie and was going right along.

The cattle stuff is all of the scrubby kind; the kind Louie deals in -- the Jerseys -- but they have some as good as any one ever saw.

Supper is ready and they are bringing it to us. Here is what we had for supper: Potatoes, tomatoes, bread and salmon. We sure do get our share of salmon here in the army.

We are still in the swampy country and just passed through the town by the name of Beebe; it made me think of Berdie Lisles. Lights are going out so I will have to go to bed; have an upper berth all to myself.

Wednesday morning and up and already for breakfast. We are in Missouri now; we are going up a valley. The wheat looks fine and is ready to cut.

We saw the biggest bunch of cattle we have seen for a long time. They sure did look fine, and now a big bunch of corn cobs made us thinks we were in God's country once more.

Some of the corn is up and has been plowed and some of it is just coming up. The hay looks fine and is mostly clover. There is not much timothy down here. The houses are mostly old shacks and would not make a good hen house up there. I had heard of razor back hogs but had never seen one until today, and she sure was a razor back; from the looks of her back she could split wood, and her nose was good and long.

I saw some corn rows today that looked like I might have drove the team; they were sure crooked. They are putting up hay down here. I do not suppose you are.

The doctor came through and gave all who were sick a dose of salts for all ailments.

The oats are short and don't look like they would turn out very much to the acre. We are now going through a country where they are clearing off the timber and are farming in and around the stumps, and there are sure lots of stumps.

We got out at Elmo, Mo., and took a little exercise to get limbered up. We are just south of St. Louis now and the country is sure fine looking land. We got in to St. Louis at 4 o'clock p. m., and did not stay very long. We are in Illinois now and it looks like we were getting out in God's country once more. We all knew when we got in the northern states by the way the people acted towards us.

We are in Ohio this morning. The country is level and looks fine. There are lots of fences that are made out of rails; it is what they call stake and rider from the looks of it.

We stopped at Galion, Ohio, and took exercises again -- marched up through the streets. It was a nice looking town. I do not know whether Ohio is wet or not, but from all appearances it is. We got to Cleveland at 3 o'clock and were there for 30 minutes. It is quite a place and has lots of pretty girls in it, and also a very nice Red Cross Association for they gave us candy and cigarettes.

I heard papa tell about how they farmed in Ohio and we saw them. They were plowing with one horse and a double shovel. It sure did look funny to see them doing that way in as big a farming country as Ohio is.

We got in to Buffalo at 10 p. m. June 13. The girls were very patriotic for they were there, and were not afraid to talk and they also passed out a few kisses to the boys.

The towns are awful close together here. It seems to be town all the way.

We are getting into the mountain country -- they are the Catskill mountains. We are now going through a dairy country. They have the dairy cattle -- Holstein and Jerseys -- and a few goats. I don't know whether they give milk or are billeys.

We got off at Kingston and marched up through the streets with our rifles but did not take our packs.

We arrived at camp at 6 o'clock Friday. It is as nice a camp as any I have seen. We are all tired and sleepy. Don't know how long we will be here and don't know where we will go, but I expect you can guess. I think our Uncle is going to take us on a sight-seeing trip. Tell all hello for me. Love to all. Your Son,

PVT. ERVIN G. DICKSON.

Camp Pike June Automatic Replacement Draft Co. 7, Over Sea Casuals, Camp Merritt, New Jersey.

Transcriber's Note: I did not find the second letter that Ervin wrote and supposedly was published in The Tingley Vindicator prior to when he was wounded in France.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, June of 2017

Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, June 22, 2017, Pages 1 & 9

Soldier's amazing story told in old newspaper clippings

[Editor's Note: The following two articles were submitted to the Record-News by Margaret S. Dickson-Dykman of Tuscon, AZ. The articles recount the amazing story of Margaret's father, Ervin G. Dickson, who was mistakenly reported as killed in action during World War I, only to make his triumphant return to his native Ellston after the conclusion of the war. The articles originally appeared in the Tingley Vindicator and the Mount Ayr Record-News nearly 100 years ago.]

The Tingley Vindicator
Tingley, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, December 05, 1918

Ervin G. Dickson killed in action
Son of Mr. and Mrs. Willis Dickson makes the supreme sacrifice
for the freedom of the world.

Another star on the Ringgold County service flag has been changed from blue to gold for another Ringgold County man has made the supreme sacrifice and freedom's holy cause.

On November 28 Mr. and Mrs. Willis Dickson of Union Township received the sad news that their son, Ervin G. Dickson, had been killed in action in France on October 8. Ervin was born in Ellston on April 15, 1892, and his entire life was spent in and near Ellston. He received his education in the Ellston schools, graduating with the class of 1910, after which he took up farming and continued to farm until called to the colors.

Ervin was with the contingent which mobilized at Mount Ayr on September 18, 1917, and left for Camp Dodge on the morning of the 19th. Later he was granted a furlough to enable him to come home to husk his corn crop and on December 29 he was transferred to Camp Pike, where he continued training until June 8, 1918, when he was sent to Camp Merritt, NJ, arriving there June 13.

He sailed for France June 15 and at the time of his death he was in Company H 38th infantry and had been in active service at the front for some time.

The telegram conveying official notification of his death says he was killed in action on October 8. He was, therefore, 26 years and 23 days old. He is survived by his father and mother, one brother and three sisters.

Ervin G. Dickson was a young man of sterling character who filled a large place in the community where he had lived all his life. He was a worthy member of the Wirt Lodge, I.O.O.F., and in his life exemplified the principles of the order. When the call to service in the cause of humanity came, he responded readily and was anxious to do his full duty. In the performance of that duty his life was given in sacrifice that the cause of righteousness might triumph. In sacred remembrance will his worthy example ever be held by his acquaintances and the unrestrained sympathy of the people of the county goes out to the sorrowing relatives.

~ ~ ~ ~

Mount Ayyr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, March 13, 1919, Page 1

Ellston honors wounded soldier
Ervin G. Dickson, reported killed in action,
given rousing reception upon his return home

Through the courtesy of W. E. Burleigh, editor of the Tingley Vindicator, the Record-News published the following article which appears in the Vindicator this week.

Ellston did herself proud Thursday when the entire population, including all the soldier boys who had gone from this vicinity and who had returned, the I.O.O.F. Lodge in (sic, and?) the public schools were lined up on the platform to welcome home their war hero, Ervin [Page 9] G. Dickson, who had been reported killed by the Germans October 7, 1917, and who it was later learned was captured by the Germans and held prisoner for over two months. Everybody was anxious to shake hands with him and it certainly kept him busy extending greetings. He said the old town never looked so good to him as it did when he saw it coming home Thursday. A reception was held for him at the Odd Fellow Hall immediately and again Saturday evening. The town was profusely decorated with flags and bunting. Mr. Dickson arrived at Camp Dodge Tuesday, and secured a five-day pass Thursday to visit his parents, returning on Monday to the hospital at Camp Dodge where his wounds received further treatment. The Vindicator secured the following interview with Mr. Dickson and presents a picture taken before he sailed for France.

"Sailed from Hoboken June 19, 1918; reached Liverpool July 1, stayed thee one day and then went to South Hampton for three days. Spent 4 July at South Hampton where we saw King George V.

"From South Hampton we crossed the English Channel during the night at La Harve, France; from La Harve we went to St. George where we were given gas mask drills for nearly a week. We were loaded on trains at St. George and shipped to the front to fill casuals (casualties?). I was put in the 38th infantry there.

"We crossed the Marne River about July 20 and took part in the Marne battle. After this battle we were sent back to a French town for about six days then were started towards St. Mihiel and took part in the St. Mihiel drive. After this drive we were loaded on a train, put into boxcars which held eight horses or 40 men, and were sent to the Verdun front. We were in support there awhile and then put up on the front lines. Company H was sent between the German and American lines to clean out a machine gun nest in the Argonne Forest, and I was wounded there at about 4:30 p.m. October 7. I was shot through the chest, in the neck, and through the finger. About dark I was picked up by the Germans and taken into their first aid station where I was given excellent first aid treatment.

"From there I was sent to a hospital and placed in a room with a bunch of wounded Germans. I was given the same food as their own wounded. The German government issued their soldiers four cigarettes and one cigar a day. I was given the cigarettes, but not the cigar. One day the nurse forbade the orderly giving me the cigarettes. He would light them and I smoked two at night and two the next morning before the nurse came on duty.

"From the hospital I was taken to Landu where there were other American prisoners. I was at Landu when the armistice was signed. The Germans seemed as glad as the Americans. They threw the Kaiser's picture out at the hospital window, kicked it and ran over it, and they tore the top button off their caps. This button represented the Kaiser's crown. They were sure happy, but the Americans were still happier.

"From Landu we were sent to the Germanshiem right on the banks of the Rhine River. We were there until December 1, when the French took over the town and the Germans moved back across the Rhine. From Germanshiem we were put on a French Red Cross train and sent to an American hospital in France. We landed at American base No. 17 where we were given good American food to eat which sure tasted good.

"From the time I left the states until I landed at Camp Dodge and saw my father and Jap Walters I have seen no one I knew since leaving the United States.

"I'm mighty thankful to get back home and I'm glad I was still able to read my own obituary, which was a pleasant mistake for me. I thank my many friends for the welcome they gave me."

Photograph courtesy of Mount Ayr Record-News
Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, June of 2017

Tingley Vindicator
Tingley, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, May 08, 1919, Page 9

THE ELLSTON DEPARTMENT

Ellston, May 6. -- Ervin Dickson, who was seriously wounded and a prisoner in a German prison for several months, has been honorably discharged and is at home again. "Dick" says that he never asked questions and looked as pleasant as possible, as he sure did not want them to discover some irregularity about his discharge papers and call him back for another prolonged stay, as he was ready for home. He is looking fine and his many friends hope that he will gradually regain the use of his wounded hand.

~ ~ ~ ~

Transcriber's Note: Ervin George Dickson was born April 15, 1892, Ellston, Iowa, the son of Willis Dickson (1862 - 1946) and Ruth L. Dickson (1865 - 1942). Aurelia Bender arrived in South Dakota in December of 1928 to finish out the school year as Wood's teacher. Aurelia was born September 15, 1908, Waterloo, Iowa, the daughter of Edward and Susan (Gales) Bender. Ervin and Aurelia were married at Wood, South Dakota in 1931. Their children were Margaret, born 1932, married Fred Dykeman; Willis, born 1933, served in the U.S. Coast Guard, married Monica Jackson; Ruth "Marie", born 1935, married James Chamberlain; Reba, born 1937, served in the WACCS, married Robert Harder; George, born 1938, served in the U.S. Army, married Mae Diamond; and Louise, born 1940, married Ervin Erdelt. Aurelia re-entered the teaching profession until her retirement in 1971. She retired to take care of Ervin who had suffered a stroke. Ervin was a member of the American Legion and the Rural Mail Carrier's Association. Aurelia was a member of Wood Woman's Club and the Legion Auxiliary.

Ervin died January 9, 1976 at a nursing home, Winner, South Dakota. Aurelia died on September 28, 2002, Winner, South Dakota. Willis, Ruth, Ervin and Aurelia were interred at Evergreen Cemetery, Wood, South Dakota.

  • Aurelia's obituary

    SOURCES: "Dickson Surname", Mellette County Historical Society, South Dakota; findagrave.com

    Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, June of 2017


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